Telecommuting Extinction Appears Doubtful

News Updates

When struggling big-box retailer Best Buy followed Yahoo by altering its employee telecommuting policies, many industry experts and teleworkers raised concerns that the flexible work option could be falling out of favor.

But a survey that global outplacement and executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas conducted shortly after the Yahoo announcement indicates that telework likely is still far from extinction. Eighty percent of 120 human resource executives polled said their companies offer some form of telecommuting to employees, with 97 percent of them saying there are no plans to eliminate that benefit.

“When major companies like Yahoo and Best Buy make notable policy changes, there is no doubt that other employers will take notice, and some may even re-evaluate their policies,” said Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John A. Challenger  in a news statement about the results. “However, it would be misguided to assume that other companies will follow blindly without considering their own unique circumstances.”

Approximately 3.1 million people, not including the self-employed or unpaid volunteers, considered home to be their primary place of work in 2011, according to the latest available statistics from the Telework Research Network. While that figure is up 73 percent since 2005, it still represents just 2.5 percent of U.S. nonfarm payrolls. It is estimated that as many as 64 million U.S. employees (just under 50 percent of the workforce) hold a job that is compatible with telework.

“If a company is having success with its telecommuting program, it is unlikely to pull the plug on it simply because Yahoo did,” said Challenger. “No two companies are the same, so each must evaluate policies such as telecommuting based on how it will affect its customers, employees and bottom line.”

But telework is clearly not for everyone. “Not every worker has the discipline and self-motivation to work from home on a regular basis, which makes it nearly impossible to have a blanket policy,” Challenger added. “Every manager must determine whether telecommuting will be permitted on a case-by-case basis. And, if allowed, it must be continually monitored to ensure that the quantity and quality of the employee’s output does not drop off.

Most companies that Challenger surveyed did not have a blanket telecommuting policy. Less than 10 percent of employers who responded offer telecommuting to all workers; about 40 percent provide telecommuting opportunities to some employees; another 30 percent do not have a formal telecommuting program but permit some employees to work from home some days.

Increased productivity was one of the leading reasons for allowing employees to work from home, according to the Challenger survey. Respondents also cited the desire to help employees achieve a better work-life balance. Other top reasons for permitting telecommuting included higher staff morale and lower office costs.

Among the respondents who indicated that they may or already have eliminated telecommuting, the driving factors were decreased collaboration and increased animosity among those who were not permitted to telecommute.